If At First You Don't Succeed…

After writing off about $13 billion in failed overseas investments over the last few years, you’d think NTT DoCoMo would swear off shelling out large sums for stakes in foreign carriers — particularly as it wasn’t until it changed strategies did i-mode begin to take off outside Japan. But a DoCoMo executive is now saying it’s “inevitable” that the company will seek new revenue sources outside Japan and may make more investments. DoCoMo’s investments in foreign carriers like 3 UK, AT&T Wireless and KPN were an unmitigated disaster, whereas its licensing of i-mode to operators, then letting them customize it to fit local needs and tastes, has become a success. So it’s unclear what DoCoMo’s learned in the last couple years that would make any new foreign investments successful. It should learn from global i-mode, and license more of its interesting technologies, like FeliCa, for a start. The contactless payment system has become the de facto standard in Japan, and while there are plenty of pretenders in the West trying to get NFC or other contactless payment systems up and running, there’s no meaningful competition there. DoCoMo’s got plenty of good ideas; it just needs to focus on exporting the right ones.

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